Leah Kostamo – Planted [Review]

May 16, 2014

 

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A Review of

Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community

Leah Kostamo

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2013
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*** The Kindle ebook is on sale for $3.99 for the remainder of May!

Reviewed by Kurt Armstrong

Leah and Markku Kostamo established Canada’s first Christian environmental center more than 12 years ago, an A Rocha site on ten acres of vulnerable land on the Little Campbell Watershed, 30 minutes south of Vancouver, BC. A Rocha (no, not Almond Rocha) is an international Christian conservation society working in 19 countries around the world. Similar to 4th century monastics or today’s New Monastic communities, A Rocha works within abandoned or vulnerable ecosystems, where people give their lives to a particular vision for a particular place. A Rocha uses the tagline “Environmental Stewardship” instead of the more-honest-but-less-professional-sounding “Because We Love This Place.” But Leah Kostamo’s book, Planted, is unmistakably a love story, complete with dreams, romance, frustration, heartache, and fidelity.

Planted is an excellent little book. Kostamo manages to squeeze theology, ecology, and local history into a compact honest, personal tale that gives an account of how an impressive institution grew out of an outrageous and dream-filled sense of calling. Planted reminds me a bit of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, though Kostamo’s book bears a distinctly West Coast flair. And because she’s not the established writer Kingsolver is, Kostamo has written a book that’s less perfect and pretty than Kingsolver’s, making it more accessible and intimate than Kingsolver’s.

 

I spent some time at the Kostamo’s A Rocha site, and it looked like they knew exactly what they were doing: conservation, stewardship, hospitality, education, research, community development, and a thriving CSA on a handful of breathtaking, well-tended acres. But like every thoughtful soul who pursues a sense of calling, the voice of doubt always has something to add, even in the face of tangible success. I can relate to Kostamo’s sense of vision because of how honest she is about the struggles and the doubts. Twelve years in, she confesses: “Sometimes I look down at the Little Campbell river, and it looks, well, little – more like a creek and a river. And I think to myself, Is this pathetic trickle worth all the effort!?

 

The Kostamos’ vocation provides the narrative thread, which keeps the book from getting too preachy: Planted is a biography of a vision. I’m not involved in anything as grand or bold as A Rocha, but as I continue to fumble along after a calling instead of a career, I found Planted very encouraging. Kostamo’s account does a good job of telling her family’s story of pursuing a calling that is impractical, largely inefficient and not necessarily always impressively effective, but nevertheless very good. Not only that, she finds ways to talk about biology, conservation, and (gulp) theology without getting heavy-handed, all because she tells such good stories. Her book is a reminder that there are many excellent reasons to make beautiful, impractical decisions, and that “financial stability” doesn’t even come close to making the list.

 

The Christians who believe that creation doesn’t matter because one day Jesus will come back and vacuum up all the true believers before he destroys the earth and creates a spanking new one make up a small percentage of the population but hog more than their fair share of public attention. Leah Kostamo’s Planted won’t grab as much attention as a bible-thumping preacher tone-deaf to science common sense, but it is compelling evidence that committed Christians aren’t just getting involved in environmental concerns: some are leading the way.